Is your walkie-talkie really license-free?

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In 2018, the WPC (Wireless Planning Commission) of India allocated the frequency of 446MHz-446.2Mhz for PMR (Personal Mobile Radio) communications. The frequency is a part of the UHF (Ultra High Freq.) band and provides good characteristics for use in 2-way walkie talkie handsets. The WPC also specified that if the effective radiated power for radios operating on this frequency were to be restricted to 0.5 watts ERP (Effective Radiated Power), then users in India would not be required to procure any licenses from the Govt., and could use these radios for personal use. However, the manufacturers of these radios were still required to have their designs validated by the appropriate government bodies and procure ‘type licenses’ or what can be termed as a blanket license for manufacturing and selling these handsets in the open market.

This move by the WPC opened up a whole new market as it not only made radio handset available to the general public, but due to the low wattage the radio handsets became cheap too. As a result, within a short span of just two years the market is now flooded with a plethora of options to choose from, all one has to do is head over to Amazon and see for yourself. Chinese handsets dominate this category since they are sold at throw-away prices. While this can be very tempting for buyers, buyers should be aware and need to ensure whether the radio really is license-free, as choosing the wrong handset can make you liable for legal prosecution, hefty fines and even a jail term!

So how do you choose the right license-free walkie-talkie handset?

Here are some things to watch out for when you select the right handset:

  • Make sure that the operating frequency is 446 MHz. Models that are fully compliant to WPC rules will only operate at this frequency. Beware of handsets that operate at multiple frequencies, as usage of pretty much any other frequencies requires the user to have a license (except for Citizens Band models which ranges from 26.95 MHz to 27.38 MHz, but then CB radios are considered to be old and outdated, handsets are usually not available easily, and they also suffer from a lot of distortion and interference from other frequencies)
  • Ask the seller if they will provide the ‘Type-license’ with the handset. Handsets that do come with these licenses are usually imported (from China), or they do not comply with WPC rules due to which the govt. of India has not certified them for license-free use. A person found to be using such handsets can be prosecuted by the Indian legal system.
  • Avoid cheap handsets. As these are known to have spurious transmissions on other frequencies, which can sometimes interfere with licensed bands. For example, a cheap and badly tuned radio may inadvertently be transmitting/ receiving on Police bands. The Police would not take too kindly to such interference, and is more than likely to use specialized equipment to triangulate the position of such errant radios, with clear intentions to investigate and prosecute.
  • Check warranty. Good quality handsets are most likely to come with a warranty, while cheap/ spurious handsets are unlikely to have any manufacturer warranty. At best a cheap handset may have a seller warranty, but this is quite inadequate to prove the quality of the device and infact it may even be a signal to avoid such handsets.
  • Battery. A good and dependable handset should have a good battery that provides several days of standby capacity. For example, a capacity of over 2500 mAh will provide you with a standby of over 4 days. This is especially important since most contemporary walkie talkies chargers are usually not portable, and require the user to bring the handset to a central location where chargers are located. But nowadays, a new breed of handsets is fast emerging that provide ease of use by incorporating USB charging ports, which can be a real blessing for users who are constantly moving (such as campaign/ trekking parties, users in remote areas, etc.).

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